By Joe Shead for Lovin’ Lake County
Fall needs to be longer. There’s just too much to do at that time of year. Leaves are blazing red, orange, and gold for leaf peepers. Hunting seasons for deer, grouse, and waterfowl are open. And it’s time to sneak in one more camping trip before the first snowflakes fly. In fall, the campfires feel a little warmer, the air is a little fresher, and life is a little better.
Fall Fishing: Chill Days, Hot Action
With all those activities, sometimes fishing needs to be remembered. Indeed, many anglers are now donning hunting clothes, leaving the lakes mostly unpressured. But fall fishing can deliver red-hot action for those hardy souls willing to brave cooling temperatures.
Catch the End of Lake Trout Season
Lake Superior anglers get one last crack at lake trout. Lake trout season closes the first Sunday in October to protect fish during their fall spawn. Before spawning, however, lakers feed heavily, making for some good movement, and autumn may be the best time of year to catch that 20-pounder trophy.
Look to the Reefs
At this time of year, fish congregate around reefs to lay their eggs. Although trolling is the most common method of fishing for lakers, jigging on reefs in the fall can be fun and productive. Fishing on Lake Superior remains open year-round for salmon and steelhead, and the few diehards who take to the lake can enjoy success trolling near river mouths.
Stream Fishing Shines in the Fall
Salmon head into rivers to spawn, and steelhead move into rivers to overwinter. You can watch fish in clear, shallow water. You may be able to spot pink salmon in odd-numbered years. Fall river fishing can benefit stream-dwelling and lake-run brook trout, spawning in fall.
Choose Inland Lakes for Walleye, Bass, and Panfish
Moving inland, folks can experience some of the best walleye fishing of the year. Fish are feeding, and a few anglers are chasing them. In early fall, look for walleyes along deep weed edges. At that time, fish may be scattered, and you may have to troll through a lot of water to find them.
As temperatures cool and weeds die off, walleyes slide deeper and become more concentrated. Look for them wherever baitfish congregate, whether along deep weed edges, current breaks under bridges, or deep rock bars. Baitfish have grown bigger by fall, so aim for sizable 4-inch minnows. Even 8-inch minnows can work for trophy-sized fish.
By late fall, walleyes could be very deep — from 25 to 50 feet, depending on the lake. Don’t be afraid to use minnows on heavy jigs to reach walleyes in deep points or rock humps. Lake County has plenty of fantastic walleye lakes, especially far north: Try Fall Lake, Farm Lake, Basswood Lake, Greenwood Lake, Wilson Lake, or Windy Lake near Ely, Minnesota.
Follow a Similar Pattern for Small Mouth Bass
As with walleyes, smallies follow the bait. Smallmouths feed very little in winter, so they strap on the feedbag in the fall. Look for them on sharp break lines, particularly within deep rock or gravel. Look into flowing water, where smallies can hide behind bridge pilings or boulders. Like walleyes, smallmouths go deep in late fall, sometimes down to 50 feet or even more. Tempt them with jigs tipped with live minnows or swimbaits. Check out Snowbank Lake, Basswood Lake, and Crooked Lake for smallies.
Crappies go Deep
Crappies vacate their summer haunts in the weeds and often congregate over deep holes in fall. Use your electronics to find them over deep water just off main lake points jutting into deep water. Inside turns within the lake’s deepest water can concentrate fall fish. Jig for suspended crappies with a jig just heavy enough to maintain a feel, tip with a minnow, and keep the bait just above the school. Crappies aren’t widespread in Lake County, but try Farm Lake or Silver Island Lake.
Hit the Weeds for Pike & Muskies
Pike and muskies feed actively in fall as well in preparation for winter. Look for both species along weed edges. Muskies, in particular, also hang out on reefs. Fall is trophy time for pike and muskies! Use big lures to catch big fish. Big bucktails or rise-and-fall jerk baits work well, as do foot-long live suckers. In lakes with ciscoes, fish shallow, rocky areas where ciscoes spawn on late-fall evenings for a shot at a real trophy.
Dumbbell Lake is the only choice for muskies in Lake County, but several lakes hold quality pike. Snowbank Lake has good potential, and pay attention to Basswood — which produced the state record! Lax Lake makes another strong bet.